Monday, 26 March 2012

Punks vs. Laos - Part 2: From Boredom to Insanity

We stand outside the bus station in Oudonxai, repeating the now familiar and surprisingly tiring action of standing with a thumb out. The scribbled directions are turning into sweaty dust in my pocket. The heat's throbbing silent, burning dubstep waves into our skin. We constantly swig at water bottles. We're tired, grumpy and dusty. Both of us are probably restraining ourselves from kicking the other one in the face.

Hitchhiking has many great elements to it, but, above all, it's one of the most intensive patience tests you can ever experience.

Fortunately, we reach Luang Prabang within the day. It's a very pretty (bland word, but the only word for it), nice (ditto) city. And, unfortunately, there's tuk tuk drivers. You'd think, escaping Thailand, that they wouldn't be around. But no, there they are, being annoying, getting in your face, jabbering incoherently in order to baffle money out of you, offering everything from rides to opium.

We get to a hostel called SpicyLaos and hung out with some pretty awesome people there. There was a chap from Arkansaw called Jeremy, who let me rip loads of music off him. A pleasure to have The Boss back in my ears. He also downloaded The Inbetweeners movie, which was comforting, predictable and incredibly funny. I still think the series is probably the most authoritative observation on suburban British teenagers. Pretty much everything you see there is exactly how they are. And, if you've never been a teenage boy brought up in suburbia, it's scarier than you could possibly imagine.

After our slightly mental journeying, it was good to stay put somewhere for a few days... although it is a bit of a mission finding things to do in Luang Prabang. There's a couple of decent bars filled with irritatingly perfect looking people and rubbish music. A plus side is the great night market where I bought some beautiful hand-stitched juggling balls and honed my haggling skills. My Mum would love the place.

Speaking of juggling, Mr. Furious, myself and a couple of other folk from the hostel went to a bar to see a circus trio, who were shamblingly fun. They had clearly completely blagged the gig on the hoof, and were basically rehearsing onstage. This all added to their charm though. What was particularly odd was the way the bar area occasionally blasted out bits of music at random. Whether they were either hinting at them to get off stage, or quite clearly telling them to fuck off, I couldn't quite gather. But, like with most things on this trip, I just accepted it as another level of weirdness being shoved into my brain.

Also, I'm reliably informed I talked in my sleep in the dormitory. Anyone who's shared space with me will attest to my nonsensical nocturnal ramblings, but this one apparently went overboard. The girl sleeping in the bed nearby mine said:

"It was like you were at a football match, shouting 'GO GO GO!'"

So yeah, turns out I don't even shut up in my sleep. There is no escape.

And that was pretty much it from Luang Prabang. Revved up to go again, Mr. Furious and I head south to Vang Vieng: the trouncing, booze-and-drugs-powered juggernaut of Laos partying. We waited for ten minutes, and a guy parks up in his pick up. He is heading to Vang Vieng. He says he will do it for 10 000 all in. We break the unspoken hitchhiker code, agree and jump in the back. Still, we get to Vang Vieng by late afternoon, and have the smug pleasure of overtaking a couple of tourist buses. Sorry guys but, honestly - pull your thumbs out and start hitching.

I believe I've covered my views on Vang Vieng in a short story I wrote a couple of weeks ago, which you can find here. However, it's worth going into a bit more detail. After a now-regulation meal and beer to celebrate not being killed and left to rot on a South East Asian rural roadside, we find another SpicyLaos guesthouse, drop our stuff, and go marching off into the unknown. And when I say "the unknown", what I really mean is "in search of various intoxicants".

Stumbling through the dark, going off road, we hear the familiar party rumble - the thundering, distant, deep bass that cuts through the pitch black. The primal calling to wreckheads world over. We come to a river which is blocking our path to the beats. And instead of trying to find a bridge, we wade through the dark water, scrambling up the muddy bank to the other side, fully formed songs forming in the darkness as we get closer and closer.

We stagger into the glitz of Smile Bar, with its raging campires and dizzying lights. We head straight for the bar, flip the menu over, and there are the previously mentioned/consumed "happyshakes" of Kho Phang Yan. A decision is made with a single look to each other and a grin. We order two, and delve into our minds for six hours. It is, frankly, fucking fantastic. We dance like chimps, babble mindless crap at people, avoid the irritatingly beautiful people playing beer pong and posing about like twats and, through doing so, meet some people who're on the level, which seems to work out just fine. After quite a while of all this, we stagger off to bed.

During the day in Vang Vieng, there is little to do apart from go tubing. I didn't bother, partly out of being contrary for the sake of it, and partly because it sounded fucking nightmarish. Basically, you go down the river in a little rubber ring thing, and stop at various bars. At these various bars, you get hammered. And that's it. There seems to be a strange delusion which grips some folk abroad, which is when there's plenty of cheap alcohol available, somehow the individual's alcohol tolerance rises. I'll let you into a secret: it doesn't. Unsurprisingly, Vang Vieng is host to many accidents and some deaths every year, and not just of dignity.

What amazes me most about this get-fucked-as-much-as-possible culture is that the individuals within it are frequently surprised when you don't want to join in. One guy comes up to me whilst I was lying in a hammock. He's a touch worse for wear at 6pm.

"What'd you do all day?" he asked.

"Err... well, I'm currently reading and lying in a hammock and enjoying the sun."

"You just seem to get hammered at night and do nothing during the day."

"Okay, I'm fine with that."

The implied question lurking beneath "what'd you do all day?" is "why aren't you getting drunk?" By all means, drink as much as you like, but why criticise me for not drinking? I felt kinda bad for him, as he was clearly bemused by how anyone could be enjoying themselves just hanging out on their own.
I found this psychology quite endemic in Vang Vieng, and as such Mr. Furious and I made it our mission to scurry off in search of small bands of really cool people have fun our way. Which, to be fair, seemed fairly similar to the way everyone was having fun, but with added scummy crustiness, swearing, over-expenditure, less posing and more chimping around.

Vang Vieng has the potential to suck you in and refuse to let you go. We stayed there five days and considered it too too long. We meet a girl who'd been there two weeks, drinking every day. She looks dazed, like she couldn't possiblyenvision a world outside of the Vang Vieng bubble. The environment of irresponsibility seems to not stop at the abuse of the individual's liver, but extends to treating other people like toys in a game. We hear about one guy who slept with a girl in our hostel, and told her that he could only have sex with the same girl three times, because it was an agreement he had with his friends (I use the term 'friends' very loosely here), otherwise he would have to down a pint of piss or something equally twattish. She didn't really take him seriously, and when it turned out he was serious, she was very hurt.

It's this kind of heartlessness that an inherently heartless environment will engender, and that's kind of sad.

That said, Vang Vieng at least has the gumption to wear its heart on its sleeve. It is what it is. Unlike Pai, with all its sinister hidden codes and hierarchies, Vang Vieng is as loud and as crass as a pair of massive brass balls banging against a pair of equally massive brass tits. Which is kind of fun to experience for a day or two, but after a while, it becomes a repetitive blur of lights and superficial noise, and we realise that there just isn't any substance to the place. Nothing to sink your teeth into, nothing to properly engage you.

Rinsed of all other possibilities, Mr. Furious and I get ready to hit the hell out of the road for Laos' capital, Vientiane...

No comments:

Post a Comment